Every Wednesday, Douglas Wolk explores the people, places and coincidences that tie disparate musicians together.
New Order’s Lost Sirens album has just appeared, close to a decade after the recording sessions that produced it began. It’s a set of outtakes (and one distinctly different version of a song) from the veteran British new wave group’s 2005 album Waiting for the Sirens’ Call. Here’s one of its highlights, “Hellbent.”
Three-fourths of the classic lineup of New Order — guitarist/singer Bernard Sumner, bassist Peter Hook and drummer Stephen Morris — were all in the post-punk band Joy Division. This live clip of Joy Division playing “Transmission” is particularly amazing for showing the band members at work, looking very, very young, although it’s interrupted by a few interview clips.
After Joy Division’s singer Ian Curtis killed himself in 1980, the rest of the group formed New Order and quickly added keyboardist Gillian Gilbert. In 1981, New Order traveled from their Manchester, England home to New York City, where they learned to use new synthesizers and drum machines and became fascinated with the new dance music that was playing in clubs Downtown. By the end of the year, they were incorporating those sounds into their own music — when they played at the Ukrainian National Home in New York’s East Village that November, their new song “Temptation” already sounded like they were listening to a lot of Latin freestyle.
Before long, New Order’s members started working on dance and pop records with other artists, too. In 1983, Hook produced and played on “Light Years from Love,” a single by Martha. Formerly of the Canadian group Martha and the Muffins — one of two Marthas in an early lineup — Martha Ladly had moved to the U.K. in the early ’80s and played with the Associates on their Sulk album before releasing a pair of singles on her own. (She also contributed the cover painting to New Order’s Factus 8 1981-1982 EP.) Here’s the little-seen “Light Years from Love” video.
For a good deal of their ’80s production work, New Order used the name BeMusic (or B-Music). “Cool as Ice,” by a group with the very New York-ish name 52nd Street, became an American club hit in 1983. In fact, 52nd Street were a Manchester band, and Sumner co-produced the single with Donald Johnson of (fellow Factory Records group) A Certain Ratio.
Another all-British band that made its greatest impact on American dance floors, with Sumner’s assistance, was Section 25. The Blackpool group’s Sumner-produced 1984 single “Looking from a Hilltop” is both a subdued, dreamy meditation and a club banger. They also made this low-tech video for it, which emphasizes the song’s static elements over its kinetic ones.
BeMusic worked with the Stockholm Monsters on a handful of releases, and several of them teamed up with Hook for a 1984 single credited to Ad Infinitum: a cover of the Tornados’ 1962 instrumental “Telstar,” a song that practically every British musician of a certain age knew by heart.
New Order collaborated with artists outside the musical realm, too. They reached far beyond the usual suspects for their videos’ directors, who included William Wegman, Robert Longo, Jonathan Demme, and — for 1987’s hilarious “Touched by the Hand of God” video — Kathryn Bigelow. Yes, the Zero Dark Thirty Kathryn Bigelow. The “film clips” intercut with footage of New Order as a hair-metal band aren’t from an actual longer film, although they do apparently star Bill Paxton and Rae Dawn Chong.
Incidentally, a bit of footage from that video ended up in a commercial New Order made for Sunkist, sung to the tune of “Blue Monday.” (They were offered an enormous sum of money to do it; the ad doesn’t appear to have actually aired.)
The first New Order spinoff to be up-front about who’d participated in it was Electronic — the duo of Sumner and the Smiths’ guitarist Johnny Marr. Their first single, 1989’s “Getting Away With It,” also featured vocals by Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys, and scraped the bottom of the American Top 40.
Around the same time, Hook formed his own dance-rock band, Revenge; their first and most successful single was 1989’s “Pineapple Face.”
What was left for the other two members of New Order to form their own band? In 1991, Gillian Gilbert and Stephen Morris started recording as — of course — The Other Two. Their debut single, “Tasty Fish,” may be the most New Order-ish thing to come out of any of the parent group’s side projects, right down to its apropos-of-nothing title.
After 1993’s Republic, New Order dissolved for the first time, and didn’t reunite for five years. In the course of the past couple of decades, all four members have kept recording outside New Order. Hook started another band, Monaco, followed by Freebass and The Light; The Other Two have made one more album and contributed to various TV and film scores. Sumner recorded more with Electronic, and in 2008 formed Bad Lieutenant, whose lineup includes several other members of the current Hook-less incarnation of New Order. But he also made one terrific single with a pair of musicians who very clearly grew up listening to his early work: the Chemical Brothers’ tense, looping 1999 song “Out of Control.”
Five years later, Hook and Sumner respectively contributed bass and backup vocals to Gwen Stefani’s “The Real Thing.” On its surface, it seems like an unlikely project for them — but it’s no more unlikely, in its way, than “Cool as Ice” or a soda commercial.